tv Q A CSPAN June 13, 2011 6:00am-7:00am EDT
" >> this week, our guest is pierre thomas of abc news. he is the senior justice correspondent. >> pierre thomas of abc news, can you remember the first time you ever thought about the news business? >> actually, i do. i was, you know, probably about 12 years old and i was watching the evening news. back where i grew, lynchburg, va., it was the abc affiliate that we watched in particular. and i watched "world news tonight," with peter jennings and max robinson. it was part of my daily ritual, to watch the news. i said, you know, that is interesting. i might want to do that some day. >> how old were you then?
seventh grade? >> something like that. we typically watched the evening news. it came on a 6:30 p.m. it would be right after we would be finishing their. >> what were the circumstances at home? what did your parents do and how many kids were at home? >> i was one of five. my dad worked in a place called lynchburg foundry, a very hard- working man. he worked pouring steel. my mom was a homemaker. we had a typical southern virginia family, lots of noise in the house. i was the youngest of my siblings. i think about that often, just great summers, lots of play. and my parents encouraged me to pursue an education. >> if we saw you in the middle of your high school experience, what would we have seen? i had a reputation of being a bookish kid. i played basketball in my
senior year. i was not very good. i rode the bench mostly. i was valid trend of my high school before went to virginia tech. >> what did you choose virginia tech? >> why did you choose virginia tech? >> i have an opportunity to choose some other schools. i had some interest from yale. but it was mostly finances. i got some scholarship money and it turned up the that would be the best place to go. it was a great institution. >> at what time during your virginia tech experience did the focus come that you do the news and where? where did you want to do it initially? >> i was thinking about business and computer science. it was interesting. i was doing pretty well in it,
but sort of bored by it. i did not feel like i was doing what i should be doing. i remember telling my mother, well, if i am good at it, i will do ok. she said, well, son, it isn't you. just try to be good at it. so i switched to communication and journalism in my sophomore year. >> we will come back to some of the details of your early life. i want to jump into one of the videos from abc. this is october 8, 2009. this is about gang violence. let's watch it and then we will come back and had exploited. >> chicago has 1000 gang members. law enforcement is an enormous
task. our correspondent pierre thomas was given extraordinary access inside the battle. >> is 5:00 a.m. in a secret location in chicago. heavily-armed u.s. marshals login on a target. >> an unknown voice word. pretty much, everything they do is through fear and violence. >> the suspect is not come, but, minutes later, he unwittingly walks into the dragnet. >> my name? >> yes. >> my name is antwon. >> some suspects are defined, like this one from the black keystone gang. >> it has been a busy morning. five suspects were arrested in four hours. all of them are suspected gang members. fbi is working with chicago authorities to dismantle gang leadership. a female gang member sells drugs in broad daylight.
that is her 4-year-old daughter holding the drugs. >> in 18 months, there were nine homicides and life amount of battery and shootings. >> it is a battle for police to keep pace. >> we have approximately 9000 male inmates and a good 90% of them, closer to 95%, are gang members. >> this gang is the latin since. >> the but they cannot arrest of their way out of this problem. >> it is not clear that we generally break up the gangs. the most that we can hope to do
is reduce the areas that they engaged in violence. >> i like the life style. the money, the girls, the cars. you have it all. >> have you been shot dead? >> have you shot at people? >> so you do not expect to live to be an old man. >> no. >> where did you get the idea to do that show? >> in no, i had been talking to a law enforcement officials. they had been telling me about the gang violence getting worse. they said it was one of the untold stories that the country has yet to sort of come to
grips with. there are so many gang members. there are tens of thousands of gang members. they really dictate life in some communities. working with john bender, charlie gibson, the tradition carried on by diane sawyer, it was a particular piece that she thought was powerful. you're given a license to do these stories and spend some time to try to bring them home. that story touched me in a way. that gang member was so direct. he was so honest. have you been shot at? yes. have you shot at people? yes. i thought i brought them home to people. imagine living in a neighborhood where that guy is walking around. while the country is dealing with the economic issue, there is a whole other side that some communities are dealing with. >> tell us as much as you can about the mechanics of doing
something like that? where do use it every day on a normal day, week basis at abc? >> i have an office a few blocks from the white house. what i tried to do is talk to sources on the phone. and visit people. that particular story, we got it by talking with law enforcement officials. i had done a previous story with the u.s. marshals on how they have been able to drive down crime in certain communities by focusing on what they call "the worst of the worst," repeat offenders. we wanted to do more on gangs because i had been hearing about them. i asked if they target gains in chicago. worst of the worst, they are the people they are often dealing with. they said, you can come out and be a file all and do what we do on a typical day.
that was a typical day, you know, i think on wednesday, mid-week, in chicago. >> how much of your personality in relationship with the marshals office had to do with them saying, come on out, we trust you, pierre? >> that is a great word. that is a huge part of what i do. you have to first convince law enforcement to open themselves up to let you be part of their world. the only way you develop that trust is through your track record of stories. i will tell people go look at clips, stories i have written, get a sense of how i work. you can call my boss' and ask questions. that is part of getting the trust of people to allow them to let you in, if you will. >> and then when you get out there, what kind of restrictions do they put on you? >> none, really. they tell you, look, you are
going to see what we normally do and when we kick down the door, we do not know what will happen, often. you need to be prepared just in case there is a fight or whatever. i have been able to see those kinds of things happen from time to time. in one particular shoot with the marshals, we were involved in a high-speed chase. the suspect ran. he ended up crashing his car. every now and then, they do have to fight suspects and you're there. your tried to portray reality as it is. >> how many people were with you? from abc? >> that particular day, we had a two-person crew. my producer for that particular piece was a jack dante. he had a camera as well. we basically had a three-man band. >> does everybody wary vesta? cox yes. >> how much fear is there that, in case you happen to get hit, they have a problem on their hands? >> that is on the back of
people's minds. but to be honest with you, we have people in much more dangerous places, like afghanistan, doing stories. while there is some risk, it is not a huge risk because the law enforcement people are pretty clear about keeping you sort of out of harm's way. you're there to report what is happening. but they do position themselves between you and what is happening. >> how much total time to spend on this story? >> we tried to do a lifecycle, work cycle with that particular team. that was all shot in one day, one night, and then produced and put on the air the next day. >> one thing that the fellow who had his face blocked out said was that he was after cars, money, and girls. is there any difference between what he wants and what some of the members of congress want? we just saw this week, cars,
money, and girls. >> bad behavior is bad behavior, whether it is on wall street or on the street corner. it is basically people being selfish, wanting what they want. >> what were your arrangements with the fellow that you talked with, the gang member who is face was blocked out to? >> when we went to the jail, again, that was developed when we got to the jail. we did not know what kind of taxes we would get when we went to the jail. when we got there, i think we saw -- what kind of access we would get when we went to the jail. when we got there, i asked the supervisor if they're winners simply to talk with. they said, okay, we will ask. i asked, what are the conditions? and they said, we will have to block their identity and voice
because talking to the media or anyone else could get you killed. so we did what we could to make him comfortable to be honest and i think he was. >> you have been other stores like this. if so, where? >> "nightline," we did something on ms13 which is a gang in south america. we went down there. part of it, you want the subject to feel comfortable. you are sort of acknowledging the conditions and the environment that people live in. sometimes, for those people, in their world, talking to the media or anyone else can be dangerous. >> let's back off of where you are now. abc, how long have you been there? >> i have been there nine years last november. >> where were you before? >> cnn, three years. >> when did you get to actually
write? >> in college, i took this course. for some reason, he took some interest in me. he said, you know, you may want to consider journalism. and he helped me get the job once i graduated with the world news. i was there for two and a half years. i covered a couple of town halls. i covered the city and a couple of universities. i covered crime. i covered everything. when my colleagues said, you know, you may want to think about going to a bigger paper, maybe "the post" or "the new york times." me? i am would first-ever. but i got to send ben bradlee
some my clips who ran the post. in less than a week, i got a letter. part of me said, it is probably a dear john letter, saying things, but no thank you. but i opened up the letter and said, you have some decent stuff there. send me some more clips. of course, i called tom, the deputy managing editors. he says, we do not typically hire people from the times or the world news. i was asked to call you. he said, well, send me some more clips. i eventually got some more interviews and they hired me. >> did you ever ask ben bradlee why he was attracted to your writing? i did, indeed. >> what did he say? >> i used to catch up with him at lunch. he said it was clear that i had a hunger and that i was doing a lot of different kinds of stories. basically, that i would work my a-s-s off.
>> what was one thing that he taught you that you still remember? >> i think that the greatest thing from him is that he exuded integrity. i tried to do that in my work. he was just a gentleman. he taught me that you can be aggressive and pursue stories. you know, it is interesting. that theme, i have seen that throughout my career. when i got to "the washington post," ben bradlee, tough but thoughtful. the managing editor, again, in the same vein. to be able to walk around a news room and see bob woodward and as can questions and others, michael will bonn, a terrific sports writer who was there the time -- again, all of
these resources. bob woodward, i realized how dogged he was, but thoughtful. those two are not mutually exclusive. >> this is from december 31, 2010. if you listen closely, there are numbers that are hard to believe when it comes to the number of cell phones that are in jails. >> pierre thomas has to present to find out what happens when using a cell phone turns deadly. >> these are self funds taken from inmates in the south carolina state prison by captain robert johnson and his contraband squad. >> we will go in and search the inmates, search their living in areas, search their work areas. >> capt. john's search turns up so phones in every place imaginable. he sees some shot over the fence in homemade bazookas and sent in footballs. captain johnson does such a good job that it almost got him
killed. >> he called an >> in it and set up a hit on my cell phone. >> the hit man came to murder johnson on a cold march morning. >> he kicked the door in and yelled police. he shot six times up in the chest. i guess the lord said that disguises to ornery to die. i will let him live. >> 911. >> my son just got shot. >> carl walker got shot outside of his home just before he was going to testify against cedric buyers. buyers set up the heat from jail. the inmates have become so efficient at sneaking in cell phones and to prison that law enforcement is turning to
technology to deal with the flood of phones. if calls come from cell phones not on the prisons approved list, those calls will be blocked. >> the cellular device you are using has been identified as contraband. >> in mississippi, this august, the system into assistant 6000 calls and text messages from inmates. in those cases, blocking calls are potentially saving lives. >> where did you get this idea? >> there was a wire story that ran about a prison guard's account. >> the associated press. >> i think it was. it struck me that there must be an interesting story behind what happened, just the human side of it. when you start digging around in this story, it is not just a story in your state, but a problem across the country. this is a story we can expand
at an end up saying something about the prison system. when you see all those cell phones and dumped out like that, you think, my god, how are they getting those cell phones and using them to commit crimes from jail? part of the beauty of our job is finding stuff that people find interesting. i think, if you are sitting at home -- i wanted to do stories people will talk about around the kitchen table. they will say, did you see that? >> where do you go next before you can make your move to interview somebody? >> typically, i will have a conversation with my producer and say, how can we find this person? it is about storytelling. one of our new leaders at abc, venture word, a new president of the news division -- ben sherwood, a new president of the news division, that is the way you drop people in.
then we are looking for a way to make them real. one of -- there is a difference between television and print. there are tweaks and differences on how you tell the story. but i think the biggest thing about television is, other then tasted and smell it, you can bring that story right to the people. so we look for ways to tell the story that do not seem bureaucratic or sort of real to people, that people can identify with. >> abc announced that they would drop 25% of their news staff. how has that been filled by you? >> you feel in terms of colleagues that you know and love, when they're gone, and the experience that left with them. but, as in any industry, you carry on and the people that remain are great.
you're only as good as the leadership that you have. one thing i can say, bragging about the place that i work, from the president to the executive producers -- all of these people are interested in breaking news, doing new stories that matter to people. i think one of the greatest challenges for journalism right now is to remain relevant, to do stories that hit home, where people actually live come in terms of how they're going about trying to get through life. >> this week, though, would be an example of a tremendous -- >> this week, though, would be an example of a tremendous a difference in the approach to stories. anthony wiener announced that he was wrong. cbs, the anchor purposely put
off for at least three stories. if he had been the boss, what would you have done? >> this business is so subjective. i think this is a story that you have to do. this is congress behaving badly. when people learn about that, they want to know more. then it is just a matter of what is the mix of the day. what i would tend to do, again, if i were in a position, is look at the story and say what affects of the most people? what story affects the most people? and then what is the most interesting? and then find the right balance between the two. >> chris cuomo did piece on one of the women who was involved. i want to run it click here to show you and ask you what are the rules that abc on this kind of stuff?
>> 26-year-old megan broussard of texas says that she became acquainted with wiener after seeing him online. >> i like to see someone who is passionate about something. >> she says that he immediately responded to her face but comment. would soon follow was it litigious internet relationship, including over 100 instant messages and, eventually, pictures. >> i thought he was attractive. >> how much of it was sex talk? >> he would attempt all the time. >> she said they began an exchange of increasingly risque photos. >> in that piece, as you probably heard, there was a mention that abc had paid money for a licensing fee for the photographs.
this issue comes up all the time, paying for interviews. what are the rules now? if you did not pay attention, you would not have known why chris cuomo was mentioning that. but again, i do not know the particulars of what happened here. i know we do not pay for interviews. i think they're referred to photographs, the use of the photographs. i guess some of the people that you interview say, in order for me to allow you to use these photographs, i expect a fee. but i know the interviews are not paid for. >> is that not kind of a phony front. you really are pay for that interview. >> you know, boy, that is an interesting question. i do not think so in the sense that -- what you're saying with the interview is that we want to interview you. and we will ask you whatever we think we should ask you. if it is not controlled by abc, you want the element to be able to show what you're talking
about. occasionally, you need to pay to get those elements. what did he say? what did he send to her? what did he show her? you can do the interview that the pictures. but you need to think about the viewer at home. >> she may not have allowed the interview if you had not paid for the licensing. >> i do not know the details of that. if they had not caught in the pictures, they still would have been in a beer. >> maybe she would not have done the interview. >> we have to be able to interview you without any restrictions. again, we want the elements. i think you will see pretty much all news divisions say, ok, in order to get all of these news elements, how should we get them? we cannot subpoena them, obviously. i guess sometimes you would
have to pay the money to get the pictures. >> again, as a reporter, how many people work on your team at all times? >> let's see. we have two producers and one other. >> and the work for you all the time? >> we work together, yes. >> so who gives you permission to move ahead on one of these pieces? >> we have leadership on every show. the management -- we will pitch for developing story and say that this is what we can do. can we do do it? and then they let us know. >> do you pitch every show, like "good morning america" or "nightline" or others independent of each other? >> yes. if it is breaking news, then i put it out to the entire division and we go from there. >> on the cellphone story, how many places ran that?
>> i think that was six needs of gma. i think there was a dot com version. >> is there gma that has to run it under their budget? >> i think so. piece's go to 2009 and a that you did on lax security at on federal buildings. >> in this exclusive video, watch closely as the congressional investigator walks live bomb components right past security in a federal building, compromised in 27 seconds. >> it is stunning. it is shocking. basically, some people have forgotten the lessons of 9/11. >> investigators went to 10 different buildings undisclosed across the country and got the same results. here is the result of what could have happened, potentially deadly explosions. >> this federal protective
service to me has trouble from top to bottom. >> we found this guard sleeping at his post. a guard accidentally fired his weapon in the bathroom. we discovered that one guard was so distracted that he actually ran a baby and a carrier through the x-ray machine. >> would receive in this whole major problem is lack of training. >> home and security officials say they take the results of the investigation very seriously and have taken short-term and long- term steps to address them. with 9000 federal buildings to protect, they have to. >> where did you get that? >> working with members of congress, we try to pursue stories that deal with homeland security issues. we say, whenever there is something that might be interesting, give us a heads up. the report was coming out and
we were able to get and a dance copy of it and do the story. >> how often are you contacted by the person you want to to cover something? how often do you initiate it yourself? >> i think it is 50/50. i am constantly making calls. calls are coming in. i actually take the vacuum cleaner approach and try to find as much as i can and then prioritize what the most interesting stories are. >> what are your daily habits of getting information? where do you go? >> i usually start before i leave my house. i make some calls with law enforcement to see what is coming in today. again, in this business, to be successful, you need to have tiptoes status. you have to be leaning forward looking for stories. >> you said calling law enforcement the time. what do you use? >> fbi, dea, immigration,
homeland security, all of those different agencies. it is a lot to have on your plate. but that is what makes the job interesting. >> how far is the government willing to go with you on the security problem and these buildings? >> some agencies are not thrilled when you do stories that are not flattering to them. generally speaking, if you tell them, look, this is what the story is about and i will give an opportunity to say what you need to say about this issue, they are ok with it. but i think there is sort of a muckraking effect to what we do in terms of exposing wrongdoing. i think it is important. the american public still needs good journalism. i think we provide a useful service to the public. >> we will show a clip in a moment, the ted stevens trial.
we covered a lot of that here, not on a day-to-day basis, but a discussion of what went on there. the public integrity section of the justice department was involved in the indictment and all that. then they threw the whole case out. they are involved again with john ensign. explain why that is with the justice department? >> it is under the criminal division of the justice department. their job is to look at public officials, by and large, and threw out wrong doing. the steven's case was less than their finest moment. even though they got the conviction, they did some things that were questionable. at the end of the day, while mr. stevens may have done some things he should not have been doing, the department has to be held to a higher standard in terms of how they prosecute.
>> the judge of the time ordered a study done on what happened. did they ever published that study? >> i have to go back and look. i think that review is starting to wane. >> april 1, 2009. this is your report on ted stevens pierre >> last fall, the 40-year political career of senator ted stevens ended in disgrace. but today, attorney general eric holder pull the plug on the case, saying evidence was withheld and it was in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial. >> the jury verdict here was attained unlawfully. the government violated the constitution of the united states. >> a jury convicted stevens of taking thousands of dollars of contributions. but after the trial, the court learned that prosecutors may have potentially allowed a
witness to lead the jury. there may be even more allegations of possible material misconduct. prosecutors have tried to keep a key witness from testifying. one of the lead agents accepted gifts and even had them over for dinner. federal prosecutors face an internal prosecution, one of prosecuting themselves. >> the prosecution was tainted and it could not be satisfactorily removed. >> stevens was legendary for his temper and his ability to get billions of federal dollars for his state. throughout the whole deal, he was defiant. >> i look only forward and i still the day when i can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me. >> that they now appears a lot closer.
>> how important is it that you, for instance, do the stand up outside of the justice department? it seems like that is a lot of expense just to have the justice department over your shoulder? >> in this particular case, because they were in the cross hairs, a few well, i wanted the public to see that this was a part of the story. that building carries a lot of symbolism with it. that is part of the reason why you do it. but, you know, that story, i know that it was a sad and difficult for the justice department and the people inside that building. >> why? >> because, again, their job is to rule out injustice and to see members of their own staff possibly engaging in inappropriate behavior, that is a tough and bitter pill for them to swallow. >> you interviewed eric holder. we will show some interviews of
that. why did the attorney general, a democrat, in the new administration, let ted stevens off? he did not have to do any of it. >> eric said, i am not the secretary of justice. i am the attorney general. he is the chief law-enforcement officer for the country. the attorney general who does their job well and looks at it in that vein, regardless of republican or democrat, if something goes wrong or goes awry, it is their job to do with it. he looked at that case and he had worked in the public integrity section back when he was a young attorney at the justice department and he knew the standard that was supposed to be met in that particular place. he felt, in this case, there were some serious questions about how they performed their duties. >> how long have you known him? >> boy, i remember when he was the u.s. attorney for the
district of columbia. i have known him probably over 15 years. >> who were you working for in the beginning? >> "washington post" in the beginning. >> is that how you get access to him? >> i like to think it he has a sense of me and how i go about doing my business and whether i am fair or not. i do think it plays a role. you try to use it to your advantage, obviously. >> how long did it take to get this exclusive interview that we will show portions of? >> weeks, if not months. getting him to talk in a situation like that does not happen very often. these people who are in these high level jobs do not to letterpress conferences and they do not do a whole lot of sit- down interviews. there realize that what they say when they said has significant impact. >> any ground rules? >> nope. nope. i just get to ask them what i want to ask them.
>> of the thread is different and costa. >> in a rare interview, the attorney general laid out the increasing threat, among them the new rapidly involving threat of homegrown radicals. >> the threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here to worrying about people from the united states, american citizens, raised here, born here -- you did not worry about this even two years ago. >> in the last 18 months, at least 50 americans have been charged with planning acts of terrorism. an american member of al qaeda may now be as grave a threat as osama bin laden himself. holder says that he is a clear and present danger.
>> he is an extremely dangerous man. he has shown a desire to harm the united states, the desire to strike the homeland of the united states. >> he is believed to be undercover in yemen. >> he is a person, an american citizen, familiar with this country, and he brings a dimension because of that american familiarity that others do not. >> where would you rankin? >> he would be on the same list with osama bin laden. whether he is 1, 2, 3, 4 -- i do not know. but he is among the people that worry me the most. >> does the u.s. have a preference -- dead, captured, alive? >> we certainly want to stop him. >> i care about what i do and i want to do it well.
when you do that, they're nervous feelings that come with doing the job. >> how you walk the fine line of not being too aggressive, but not being too soft so that they will invite you back? >> just through the many conversations that you have with them and their staff, where you tell them, look, this is the job. the job is to rescue the good, the dad, and the ugly. i have the "no surprise" rule. did you tell people where you're coming from and what you have to do and that is what their expectation is, you usually do not have a problem. the role of the -- some believe that the role of the media is to be adversarial. but at the end of the day, i'm to give information to people. >> what is eric holder like when the cameras are off? >> very similar to that. he is very sort of low key.
he has a wry sense of humor as well. >> why do you think he has worked his way up successfully from being a u.s. attorney to be a deputy to the justice department to being the attorney general? >> i think there's a certain amount of patriotism that is associated with people in washington that does not often get talked about where people are asked to serve and they served to some cost to them and their family. i would put him in that category with many of the people in washington. >> here's some more of your in be.
>> he also encouraged the gunmen, 12 suspected homegrown radicals and charged with attempted acts of terror. his teachings and writings have been discovered on their computers. >> one thing that struck me is how many of these people have been radicalized on line. the ability to go in your basement, turn on your computer, find a site that has this kind of hatred spew they have, the ability to take somebody, perhaps just interested, perhaps on the edge, and bring them over to the aside. >> the increasing number of stings is not without controversy. >> critics say that these things that the fbi have been doing, basically, amount to entrapment. as we will do whatever we have to do in order to protect the american people. options are given for them along the way to say i change my mind. but no one to do this.
up until now, everyone that we have charged says, no, we want to go forward. all designs were meant to kill americans. >> the intelligence community is working around the clock and al qaeda central has been degraded. >> have we been lucky or good? >> i like to think that we have been good. >> but he says that the u.s. will continue to thwart attack. the pressure is unrelenting and there is no guarantee. >> the american people has to be prepared for potentially bad news. >> he says that much of the intelligence is chilling. sharing a bit of personal insult, he said, one thing that gives them a sense of normalcy is helping his children with homework. >> speaking of children, do you have any? >> i have a little boy, 9-year- old, nathaniel -- nathaniel charles thomas, named after his two granddads.
>> does he want to a television? >> he does, indeed. he is really bright and is making excellent progress in school. he is the joy of my life. >> where did you meet your wife? >> my wife i met at my college roommates wedding she sort of ignored me at that wedding. we later met after my college roommates a, you know, you should call allison up and see if she will go out with you. i convinced her to go out with me and the rest is history. it took some doing, but i am a better man for it. >> how long have you been married? >> i have been married since 1998. >> back to the interview, how much of that report that we saw on "good morning america" did you write? >> all of it. >> with all the clips that you picked out and the art work that is done, who does that? " we have producers and editors
who do the visuals side. i consult with my producer, obviously, on the writing, but i particularly like to write by pieces myself. >> so a piece like this was shown on how many different outlets at abc? >> that was an exclusive for "good morning america." we ran it on radio and on the dot com platform. i think some of it ran with the affiliate's, to. >> over the years -- you have been there 10 years -- has television news changed for the reporter? >> you know, i would say my job is primarily the same. the one difference is that we have to make sure we serve all the different platforms. when i do one piece for the broadcast, i will also do one for radio, i will write a dot com piece. >> you're talking about -- >> simultaneously. basically, in this age of
facebook and twitter, your trying to get as much of your information -- i also facebook and i have a twitter count as well. you try to connect with people in as many ways as you can. >> what kind of tweets do you do on a normal day? >> typically on whatever piece i am working on. i say check out this that is coming up on "world news" or something else. it is related about the story, reminding people of something that i have done or something i am about to do. >> in the feedback that you get, what is the difference between being a "washington post" reporter for years and then being a television news reporter? >> i will officially be at
mcdonald's and see the paper and it looks like they were reading my story. i thought it was cool. now, because you are seen by a lot of people, people come up to you. there really do talk to you as if they know you. i guess you are coming into their home and that took some getting used to. i would be in the supermarket in a t-shirt and shorts, running errands for my wife, and somebody would come in and say, "that is an interesting story you did." that takes some getting used to, being part of the story that you conveyed. >> in arizona -- >> have jerry lee loftier spent hours before the shooting browsing the internet. we begin with pierre thomas who is here tonight. >> sources tell us that his plan for the deadly rampage appears to have been much more
meticulous than we previously knew. he was contemplating every aspect of his of salt, including the let the punishment. according to unofficial, he used his home computer to browse the web site with information about the effects of lethal injection. he wanted to know what death by injection felt like it lethal injection is the method of capital punishment imposed by the federal government. he also browsed the internet about solitary confinement. perhaps more disturbingly, he had been researching political assassins. sources say it all paints a cold blooded picture of forethought. some legal scholars think that the new evidence makes the defense a long-shot for success. >> the argument is whether he knows the right from wrong. but the man i saw in court
myself openly grinning and smiling appeared to have no remorse. >> your were telling me that when you walked in the door, he appeared to be in a different place. >> all of the reporters seemed to gasp when he walked in because he was just smiling. >> where was that set? >> at our bureau in washington. >> you had snow behind diane sawyer and you did not have anything behind you, except what looked like the lincoln memorial. >> right. it was snowing that day. we all went out to dinner after the show. it was a cold winter day. we got this information that was breaking on a laughner. that is one of the more sad stories. you had people who showed up to meet with their congresswoman
in arizona. it happened on a saturday. i flew out on a sunday night and got there just in time to do my "good morning america" live shot. >> what is the first thing when you're coming from outside of the story? what is always different? >> i am always struck by how nice people are in a lot of these locations that have had tragedy. the humanity that people should you, even though it is a difficult circumstance they are going through. the people of tucson could not have been nicer. you are immediately struck by this horrible thing that has happened. it is not necessarily a reflection of the entire community. >> there are other things in your report that i want to ask about. you talk about officials familiar with the investigation. no names.
later you said, "allegedly, he browse the web." and you said that legal scholars said this. we do not know who you were talking to. why not? >> in this kind of story, a lot of what we do is that we get people to tell us things that they probably should not be talking about. so you have to give them a certain amount of anonymity. in general terms, when people see my story, people know that i am talking with law enforcement people or associate with the defendant side. so we have to give them some protection for candor. what i am getting -- what i'm trying to get is reality is best a can. until he is convicted of doing certain things -- again, i did not see him do these things even though, i talk with people i trust, i still have to get some qualifiers. >> we will have a round table later this week.
i will ask about this. >> the times were bombing originated in pakistan. 2009, september 14, also originated in pakistan. >> you were talking about the loan will, but also what seems to have come out that osama bin laden was not just interested in financial and other warfare against the united states, but racial and class. >> the level of expertise and thoughtfulness that osama bin laden and al qaeda came up with not just to bring down the u.s.. the notion to get americans thinking about each other, looking at each other in strange ways, that was part of the plan as well.
>> how much do you worry about giving your opinion in a situation like that? >> for me, it is sort of easy. when they bring us into that room, they are looking beyond what i have been reporting during the week and pulling back the notebook a little bit. it is going into the new book a little bit deeper, giving some insight into what you have been covering and what you have been gleaning from people and giving more perspective. in some ways, that is a lot more fun because i get to expand a little bit more about the nature, the tone that people are giving me when i have conversations. >> what is the best source on osama bin laden? >> you are asking me to give away trade secrets. >> i am not asking you to give names of people. but where do you find best information? >> to tell you the truth, i try
to talk to as many different sources and in different places to accumulate a sense of what the truth is. a story like this, i was using all of the above, to be honest with you. i was checking and double checking with multiple places, up the food chain and down the food chain. that is important to make sure you nail it and that what ever you are saying to the american people about it is right. thankfully, i have been able to avoid huge mistakes. >> have you ever been sued? >> no. >> who did you make the most mad? [laughter] >> i think i made people angry when you do stories that are very critical of the job that they do. i remember doing stories at "the washington post" about security firms that were losing their guns, literally, unaccounted for weapons that were turning up
in crimes. those stories dealt with how can there be all of this gun violence in a city that had banned handguns? i came back to it again and did a story about atf, as an agency, were they contributing? the story looked at whether they were contributing to the problem. i remember one particular story was about how, due to lax oversight, a guy in baltimore, a drug dealer in baltimore actually got a license to sell guns and he sold guns out of the truck of his car. and those guns turned up in crime after crime after crime. when you peel back the onion,
what you found is that you can get a gun dealer's license, a three-year license for $30. no one came to place to see if you had a structure, to get your background information, to see if you had been to jail, nothing. and the agency was not that happy about that story. >> you have been in the middle of washington for 25 years. people are very frustrated with this town. the respect level is way low. how should americans feel about their democracy? >> great question. you know, i think that part of our job -- i will answer this way -- i think part of our job is to show, again, the good, the bad, and the ugly and so that the public can see how these people conduct themselves, see what issues they are focused on, see how they go about doing
and dealing with these issues. and i think the part of the frustration that people have is sometimes that there's so much bickering going on in washington that there is not a lot getting done. i do not think that any reasonable person can sit here and say that the country does not face huge issues. i think that people who are, again, sitting around their kitchen table, like we talked about earlier, wondering who is looking out for me? who is dealing with helping me maintain and keep a job in supporting my family and educating my children? who is doing that? i think that a lot of the frustration that people have is that there's so much white noise coming out of this town that they do not feel the people here looking out for them. >> last question. we are almost at a time. who do you favor? your mother or your father? do you look like or act like one or the other? >> my father died about six years ago.
i miss him. my mother, i think -- she is a people person. she loves being around people. my father, in a job where he sat on cold winter days, he never missed a day for 10 years. i think i get my work ethic from him. >> pierre thomas, abc news, thank you for your time. >> my pleasure. >> for a dvd copy of this program, call 1-877-662-7726. for a free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org. programs are also available as c-span podcasts.
>> coming up, "washington journal," will take your questions and comments. also tom vilsack its a speech on global food security. later the house returns to work on 2012 affairs. next on "washington journal," review of the headlines along with your phone calls and questions and then a look at the 30-year history of the hiv aids epidemic and current advances in treatments with the director of the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases. then the president of the american bus association discusses tour